Tonight, otherwise normal, law-abiding people across England will become pyromaniacs for the evening, lighting bonfires and setting off fireworks.
This annual tradition is a way of remembering the events of November 5th 1605 when a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament was foiled. One of the most famous conspirators of what became known as the Gunpowder Plot was Guy Fawkes.
Here for your delectation are ten little known facts about him:
1) Guy (or Guido as he liked to be known) Fawkes was born on April 13th 1570 in Stonegate in York. He was educated at St. Peter’s School in York.
2) Fawkes and the other members of the Gunpowder Plot were also Catholics and the plot was a response to the repression they experienced. After the death of Queen Elizabeth I, King James (King James VI of Scotland) was next in line to the throne of England. Many English people being opposed to the rule of a Scot meant that the Gunpowder Plot would have been a very populist response.
3) Fawkes was an experienced soldier, although he never fought for his country. He gained experience with explosives fighting for the Spanish against the Dutch.
4) Although Fawkes wasn’t the main conspirator he had one of the most important roles. A cellar below the Houses of Parliament, rented by the members of the plot was filled with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder, sufficient to have completely destroyed the building and cause severe damage to all buildings within a one mile radius.
5) During his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot, Fawkes called himself John Johnson and when arrested was the name he gave.
6) Despite being involved in what was, essentially a terrorist plot, Fawkes was named the 30th All Time Greatest Briton in a 2002 BBC poll.
7) When Fawkes was taken to the King’s bedchamber to explain why he wanted to kill him and blow up Parliament, Fawkes calmly replied that, following his excommunication by the Pope, he regarded the King as a disease on the land.
8) Under torture, it took four days for Fawkes to admit to his part in the Plot and give names of other people involved in it. His signature on the written confession after torture, which is still held by the National Archives, was very faint and weak. Fawkes and other conspirators in the Plot were tried on January 31st 1606 and then hung, drawn and quartered in the Old Palace Yard in Westminster.
9) Contrary to popular belief, Fawkes wasn’t thrown onto a bonfire. That only happens to straw effigies that have been made of him since.
10) An uninhabited island in the Galapagos is named Isla Guy Fawkes, or Guy Fawkes Island.
In the intervening years, Guy (or Guido as he preferred in honour of his Spanish connections) Fawkes’ reputation has undergone a major rehabilitation and he is regularly toasted as “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions”